Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes Fotografie
Ambassador’s debate with Israeli and Palestinian representatives
When an Israeli and a Palestinian take part in a debate, especially when they both are the highest representatives of their country, the atmosphere is always loaded. As was the case at the second ambassador’s debate organised by Studium Generale and the Arab World Office (UM) on Tuesday night. The Minderbroedersberg Aula is packed with mainly foreign students. The guests are Haim Divon, Israeli ambassador in the Netherlands since September 2011, and Nabil Abuznaid, head of the Palestinian Delegation since 2009.
Unlike the meeting two weeks ago with four representatives from Eastern Europe, security guards are everywhere now – outside the Minderbroedersberg, at the entrance, in the hall, in the Aula. Some have been hired by Maastricht University, some by the Israeli embassy. Then, at the beginning of the debate, a banner is launched by a visitor: “Israeli leaders must be tried before the International Criminal Court.” A few minutes later another one stands up: “Stop the Holocaust in Palestine.” A few rows away a girl holds up the familiar picture of an Israeli soldier pointing his gun at the chest of a small Palestinian boy.
In the meantime, Divon paints a picture of what he calls “a troubled region”. The problem is not the conflict with Palestine alone, but also the turmoil in Syria, Libya and Egypt, and the threats from Hamas and Hezbollah. “Not to mention Iran, a country with no hidden agenda. It openly wants to wipe Israel off the map. That’s the reality we live in. It’s nothing like your relationship with Belgium. With Palestine, we want a two-state solution, to resume discussions any time. The problem is that Palestine is internationalising the conflict, to put pressure on Israel. We want security, not at the expense of Palestine. We want a good neighbour.”
Like his Israeli colleague, Abuznaid doesn’t mince words. First he sums up the atrocities of Israel and concludes that it’s time to give up the occupation and see the Palestinians as equals. “The animosity has nothing to do with religion but with the occupation. It’s humiliating. We want peace.”
Divon: “It’s nice to hear you preaching for peace, but why not stop the rhetoric of hatred in Gaza then? Why not stop glorifying suicide bombers, naming streets after them? Again, this is the reality we face.”
A student asks why the Palestinians, expelled in 1948, are not allowed to return to their former homes in Israel. “Because they should return to their own country, to Palestine”, says Divon. “No”, responds Abuznaid. “Israel doesn’t respect the international law which allows refugees to go back.”
At the end of the meeting, in which the representatives each clung to their own story, their own monologue, the moderator and UM professor Thomas Christiansen asks what compromises they would make to achieve peace. Divon: “For us everything is on the negotiation table.” Abuznaid: “We will accept only 22 percent of the original land of Palestine. Isn’t that a great offer for Israel?”